Category: Segregation

The end of the line

It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here’s Nancy’s farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change.  Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.

The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic  secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.

While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.

It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990’s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.

But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods.  Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.

PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.

As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.

Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)

There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.

Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.

González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)

Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.

(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)

Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives.  If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)

It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.

If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.

In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.

There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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In 1998, I joined a multiethnic activist group called the Community Monitoring Advisory Coalition (CMAC).  The group was led by longtime activists Ron Herndon, Richard Luccetti and Halim Rahsaan.

My first CMAC committee assignment was writing the history of the struggle to improve public education for minority children.  That was quite an assignment for me considering that I come from a poor white background.  I’d rarely left my neighborhood.  Needless to say the paper was a collaborative effort.

I’m in the process of updating the Two Decade Struggle for Public School Children because it is now over a decade behind.

I get pissed when I read through the history now because so much of what was fought for has been lost.  Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

In 1979 the Black United Front began working against a school desegregation plan that was very harmful to Black children and discriminatory in its implementation.  Using a study by the Community Coalition for School Integration, the Front protested the forced busing of Black students from their communities while White students were allowed to attend neighborhood schools.  School district policy prevented Black teachers from teaching at schools in the Black community.

There were no schools serving grades 6-8 in the Albina neighborhood where the majority of Portland’s Black children lived.  All middle school aged children were mandatorily bused into other neighborhoods.  School officials tried to put as few Black children as possible in as many White schools as possible.  In 1977, 44 students from the Eliot neighborhood were bused to 20 different schools.  This abusive practice of busing and scattering Black students occurred at every elementary school in the Black community.

The Front sponsored two successful boycotts of Portland Public Schools in 1980 and 1981 to press demands for a new desegregation plan and a middle school in the Black community.

Tubman Middle School was opened in 1983 but only after the firing of Superintendent Blanchard (BESC is named after him), partially because of his unwillingness to work with Black parents and intervention by a mediator from the US Department of Justice.

Sadly Tubman closed in 2006.  Where is the Albina neighborhood’s middle school now?

One of my favorite poems is a long poem called The Intervals by Stuart MacKinnon.  In it MacKinnon talks about not letting the effort of generations drop.

Portland Public Schools has taken advantage of the fact that some communities have been asleep.  PPS has changed school boundaries and reconfigured, consolidated and closed schools in poor communities with little resistance.

By just about every measure (achievement gap, dropout and discipline rates, under and over representation in TAG and SPED, teacher diversity, and equitable opportunities) Portland has gone backwards.  Hard fought gains have been lost.

PPS is about to change school assignment policy at the high school level, redraw boundaries, and close schools.  They say that they’re making the changes in an effort to create equity.  Nothing in their history makes me believe that.

PPS administrators can’t be trusted to do the right thing for kids unless forced.  Hell, they don’t even know it’s about kids.  They think it’s about them.  Parents and community members need to get involved now.  Before it’s too late.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.


In the news: HS principals weigh in; one resigns

Joseph Malone and Carla Randall, principals of Grant and Madison High Schools respectively, penned an op-ed in today’s Oregonian in support of the principle behind the high school redesign: equal educational opportunity.

Echoing Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson’s speech to the City Club last month, Malone and Randall argue that opportunity should not be determined by race, income or ZIP code as it currently is.

Malone and Randall blame the current state largely on the district’s open transfer enrollment, an issue explored extensively on this site.

Malone and Randall ask:

What drives these inequities? Enrollment. In Portland’s open-choice system, it’s easy to flee some schools for others. Declined enrollment overall multiplies the effect. Schools that lose students, lose teaching staff, which means skimpier choices for kids. The risk? High-flyers leave, courses are diminished, parent involvement declines and students struggle.

It’s refreshing to hear district administrators openly repudiating the “school choice” policies the previous administration defended until the end, but troubling that so far these reform efforts are only aimed at the top four grades of a thirteen-grade system. School choice continues to drive dramatic inequities in the K-8 grades, too.

Also troubling in the high school plan, besides a nagging lack of details of analysis done to support planning (or, perhaps, the lack of analysis altogether), is the thinking around special focus options. At one point, planners were talking about having a third of high school students in special focus schools, meaning lower enrollment (or fewer in number) community high schools. Because of the lack of detail on how schools will be targeted for closure or conversion to focus options, rumors have consistently swirled in advance of every community meeting, with the latest, at Franklin, drawing upwards of 2000 concerned community members.

In perhaps unrelated news, Malone announced his resignation, effective at the end of the current school year, in e-mail to Grant parents yesterday. This has added fuel to the rumor mill, with parents wondering if he knows something the rest of us don’t.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Restricted transfers: how does this benefit black students?

A member of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs (OABA) e-mail list asks this very pertinent question:

Can anyone…help me understand the benefits to Black students to be required to attend a high school with an impoverished academic program compared to other Portland public high schools just because the Black students live in the neighborhood of an academically impoverished school?

This question is in response to Carole Smith’s announcement of a high school system redesign that would balance high school enrollment by eliminating the ability to transfer between neighborhood schools (choice would be preserved in the form of district-wide magnets, alternative schools, and charters).

The ideal, of course, is that all neighborhood high schools would have equitable offerings, so nobody would be “trapped” in a sub-par school.

But there is a significant lack of trust in the community, which Smith acknowledges. In her press conference announcing the redesign last month, she endorsed the restriction of transfers “with this caveat: We cannot eliminate those transfers until we can assure students that the school serving their neighborhood indeed does measure up to our model of a community school — with consistent and strong courses, advanced classes and support for all.”

In my minority report on high school system redesign, I proposed exceptions to the “no transfers” rule for transfers that don’t worsen socio-economic segregation.

“In other words,” I wrote, “a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch could be allowed to transfer to a non-Title I school, and a student who doesn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch could be able to transfer to a Title I school. This is a form of voluntary desegregation that is allowable under recent Supreme Court rulings, since it is not based on race.”

I’m not sure if this is the kind of caveat Carole Smith is talking about, but I believe the district has proven it cannot rely on the trust of poor and minority communities who have been disproportionately impacted by district policy. In addition to increasing integration in our schools, this would provide a critical “escape valve” for minority communities while the district demonstrates its good faith.

While our current system ostensibly offers all students the opportunity to enter the lottery to get into a comprehensive high school, only students in predominately white, middle class neighborhoods are guaranteed access to a comprehensive secondary education.

The propposed high school redesign is definitive step toward closing this glaring opportunity gap (even if the achievement gap persists).

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


High school system redesign: an (unauthorized) minority report

Note: The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) was asked to study and report on the high school system redesign. The SACET report (67 KB PDF) was issued in May, with the full support of 12 of 14 members of the committee. One member supported the report with some questions, and one member, your humble editor, could not support the report.

There was no official mechanism within the committee to issue a minority report, so this report is an ad hoc response to the shortcomings of the SACET report. As a member of that committee, I bear a share of responsibility for these shortcomings, so this report is not intended as a personal attack on any of my committee colleagues who spent a great deal of time and energy on a report that reflects much that I agree with. Rather, it seeks to cover areas that SACET did not cover, and amplify their call for “a plan that has neighborhood schools as its foundation.”

This report refers to the “Three Big Ideas” (592 KB PDF) as presented by the Superintendent’s team. This minority report is also available for download (124 KB PDF) –Ed.


The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) was asked to study and report on the “Three Big Ideas” for high school redesign. The three models were presented in broad strokes, with no analysis to support how the models would lower dropout rates, increase graduation or narrow the achievement gap.

The SACET report took note of these shortcomings, but failed to substantially analyze specific information that was given. The committee also failed to supplement given information with readily available data.

Specifically, SACET did not examine the three proposed high school models in light of:

  1. the clearly stated enrollment and transfer implications of the models,
  2. the number of campuses that would likely remain open with each model, and
  3. comparisons to existing high school models in the district and their successes and failures.

The committee also questioned the urgency of the process, which would seem to indicate a failure to appreciate how grossly inequitable our current system is. We don’t, in fact, currently have a “system” of high schools.

This lack of a central system (along with other factors, such as the school funding formula and allowance of neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers), has led to the statistical exclusion of poor and minority students from comprehensive secondary education in Portland Public Schools.

Therefore, it is of tantamount importance that we immediately begin implementing a system that eliminates race, income and home address as predictors of the kind of education a student receives in high school.

For the first time since massive revenue cuts in the 1990s began forcing decentralization of our school system, we are envisioning a single, district-wide model for all of our high schools. That is a remarkable and welcome step toward equity of educational opportunity in Portland Public Schools.

The focus of this minority report is on the three factors listed above: enrollment and transfer, number of campuses remaining, and comparisons to existing high schools.

Analysis of the Models

Special Focus Campuses

Large campuses (1,400-1,600 students) divided into 9th and 10th grade academies and special-focus academies for 11th and 12th grades. Students in 11th and 12th grades must choose a focus option.

Enrollment and transfer implications This model would more or less keep the existing transfer and enrollment model, and depend on an “if we build it, they will come” model to draw and retain enrollment in currently under-enrolled parts of the district by focusing new construction in these areas (per Sarah Singer).

School closure implications This model would support 6-7 high school campuses, leading to the closure of 3-4.

Comparison to existing schoolsThis model would draw on the “small schools” models that have been tried with varying degrees of success at Marshall and Roosevelt, and which have been rejected by the communities at Jefferson and Madison. It would also use the 9th and 10th grade academy model that has been successful at Cleveland.

Neighborhood High Schools and Flagship Magnets

Moderately-sized (1,100 students) comprehensive high schools in every neighborhood, with district-wide magnet options as alternatives to attending the assigned neighborhood school.

Enrollment and transfer implications This model would eliminate neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers, as well as the problems that go with them: self-segregation; unbalanced patterns of enrollment, funding and course offerings; and increased vehicle miles. School choice would be preserved in the form of magnet programs.

School closure implications As presented, this model would support 10 high school campuses, requiring none to be closed.

Comparison to existing schools This model most closely resembles the comprehensive high schools that are the most successful and are in the highest demand currently in Portland Public Schools.

Regional Flex

The closest thing to a “blow up the system” model. The district would be divided into an unspecified number of regions. Each region would have a similar network of large and small schools, with students filling out their schedules among the schools in their region.

Enrollment and transfer implications Transfer between regions would be eliminated, allowing sufficient enrollment to pay for balanced academic offerings.

School closure implications Most high school campuses as we know them would be closed or converted, in favor of a distributed campus model.

Comparison to existing schools This model would draw on both small schools and comprehensive schools currently existing in our district, but as a whole would be more similar to a community college model than any existing high school model in our district.


It is understood that these models represent extremes, and that the ultimate recommendation by the superintendent will likely contain elements of each.

That said, the Neighborhood High Schools model is the closest thing to a truly workable model. If used as the basis of the ultimate recommendation, that recommendation will stand the highest political likelihood of winning a critical mass of community support.

Specifically, the neighborhood model:

  1. is responsive to high demand for strong neighborhood schools;
  2. supports a broad-based, liberal arts education for all students, but does not preclude students from specializing;
  3. balances enrollment district-wide, providing equity of opportunity in a budget-neutral way;
  4. preserves school choice, but not in a way that harms neighborhood schools;
  5. reduces ethnic and socio-economic segregation by reducing self-segregation;
  6. takes a proven, popular model (comprehensive high schools) and replicates it district-wide, rather than destroying that model in favor of an experimental model (small schools) that has seen limited success in Portland (and significant failures);
  7. preserves the largest number of high school campuses;
  8. involves the smallest amount of change from the current system, causing minimal disruption in schools that are currently in high demand;
  9. is amenable to any kind of teaching and learning, including the 9th and 10th grade academies and small learning communities; and
  10. preserves room to grow as enrollment grows.

This system is very similar to the K-12 system in Beaverton, which has a very strong system of choice without neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

The transfer and enrollment aspect of this model is its most compelling feature.

We have learned definitively that when we allow the level of choice we currently have, patterns of self-segregation and “skimming” emerge. These effects are aggravated by the school funding formula and a decentralized system. Gross inequities in curriculum have become entrenched in our schools, predictable by race, income, and address. These factors have also led to a gross distortion in the geographic distribution of our educational investment.

Clearly, in the tension between neighborhood schools and choice, neighborhood schools have been on the losing end. A high school model that includes neighborhood-based enrollment, while preserving a robust system of magnet options, is a step toward rectifying this imbalance.

We’ve also learned (through transfer requests) that our comprehensive high schools are the most popular schools in the district.

As we have experimented over the years with non-comprehensive models for some of our high schools, the remaining comprehensive schools have been both academically successful and overwhelmingly popular. The small schools model, while it has much to recommend, has been implemented in a way that constrains students in narrow academic disciplines, flying in the face of the notion of a broad-based liberal arts education.

There is certainly nothing wrong with small learning communities, but a system that requires students to choose (and stick with) a specialty in 9th or 11th grade is unnecessarily constraining.

A comprehensive high school can contain any number of smaller communities, including 9th and 10th grade academies. Older students may be assigned to communities based on academic specialty, but that shouldn’t preclude them from taking classes outside of that specialty.

The Neighborhood High Schools model clearly does not do everything – our district will remain segregated by class and race. But it would move in the right direction by eliminating self-segregation and beginning to fully fund comprehensive secondary education in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The enrollment and transfer policy could be further tweaked to help reduce racial and socio-economic isolation, as well as to alleviate community concerns that the reduced transfers will lead to poor and minority students being “trapped” in sub-par schools.

To this end, neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers could be allowed, so long as they do not worsen socio-economic isolation. In other words, a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch could be allowed to transfer to a non-Title I school, and a student who doesn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch could be able to transfer to a Title I school. This is a form of voluntary desegregation that is allowable under recent Supreme Court rulings, since it is not based on race.


All of these models show creative thinking, and, most importantly, a strategic vision to offer all students the same kinds of opportunities, regardless of their address, class, or race. The importance of this factor cannot be overstated.

While none of the models specifically addresses the teaching and learning or community-based supports that are necessary to close the achievement gap and increase graduation rates, they all are designed to close the opportunity gap.

But only the neighborhood model hits the right notes to make it politically feasible and educationally successful: strong, equitable, balanced, neighborhood-based, comprehensive schools, preserving and replicating our most popular, most successful existing high school model, and keeping the largest number of campuses open. The choice is clear.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Racial code words for dummies

Racism exists in many forms. Perhaps the most hurtful form is the unconscious kind, expressed inadvertently by people who consider themselves to be well-meaning. I don’t think anybody who contributes to the discussions at PPS Equity is a racist, but there have been times when non-white readers have contacted me in exasperation about some of the things they’ve read here.

Just for kicks, see how many code words you can spot in the following passage. This is a real comment on a different blog.

We live in our neighborhood b/c it’s what we can afford, but the schools here are scoring so low and are socially very rough. We go to a charter school (thankfully k-8) about 4mi away, and have been developing a great community there. Most of the kids in our neighborhood go to various other schools too. Ironically, they are the more balanced, healthy kids that I prefer my kids befriend anyway. The ones from our neighborhood school are often yelling cusswords, lying, flipping each other off, and don’t seem to be supervised.

Now, I can see the black readers rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. And I can see some white readers shrugging their shoulders, saying “What? Sounds reasonable to me….”

This, my friends, illustrates the racial divide in “post-racial” America.

Let’s start with the first phrase: “We live in our neighborhood b/c it’s what we can afford….” Right away, we have a denial of privilege. And privilege is at the heart of racism. This is a show stopper for readers who are not privileged (e.g. non-white or economically disadvantaged). Nobody who’s a product of a generational struggle for basic rights and justice wants to explain to you that you are, in fact, privileged, and they’re not likely to get beyond this first phrase.

But if they do, they’re gonna get hit with this doozy: “…but the schools here are scoring so low and are socially very rough.”

Test scores correlate highly to race and income. There is strong statistical evidence showing poor and non-white students score poorly regardless of setting. Conversely, white, middle class students tend to score highly regardless of setting. “Low test scores” are a proxy for race and income. “Socially very rough” is even less oblique, as the writer shows later in the passage.

Note the thankfulness for the charter school being K-8, but no acknowledgment of the privilege that allows a family to enroll in a charter and do an 8 mile round-trip commute for elementary school. Also note that they’re “developing” a community outside of their neighborhood, implying an unwillingness to adapt to the community that existed in the neighborhood before they moved in, presumably “other” in one or more unacceptable ways . This is unselfconscious self-segregation.

By this point, it’s not hard for a non-white reader to read “more balanced, healthy kids that I prefer my kids befriend” as white, middle class kids and “[t]he ones from our neighborhood school are often yelling cusswords, lying, flipping each other off, and don’t seem to be supervised” as describing non-white, economically disadvantaged kids.

This passage is pretty extreme. I’ve never seen anything so blatant here, thankfully. What we see here are generally more frank, direct discussions about race and class, but we still get a failure to acknowledge an unequal starting point — that is, privilege.

Every kind of ism — classism, racism, sexism, etc. —  is a rhetorical match-up between the privileged and the under-privileged.  So if you are white, and you are talking to a black person about race, you speak from a position of privilege. If you don’t acknowledge this to yourself at the outset, or, even worse, if you deny your privilege, you are likely to offend the other person.

If you go further and ask that person to explain your privilege, or argue that you don’t benefit from privilege, things are going to get ugly fast.

Then there are the old political code words for race: gangs, welfare, quotas, crime, state’s rights, “reverse racism”, etc. But more pernicious are the things that come from supposedly well-meaning liberals.

If you’re white, here are some things you don’t want to say when discussing race with somebody who’s not white, with the perceived subtext in parentheses (tip of the hat to Derailing for Dummies, a must-read):

  • You’re being hostile/disruptive/overly sensitive (you are uppity and don’t know your place)
  • If you don’t teach me, how can I learn (it’s your responsibility to demonstrate my privilege)
  • I’ve experienced discrimination, too (so what’s the big deal)
  • Other minorities I know say this isn’t a big deal (so you’re obviously exaggerating and need to prove racism to me)
  • We have a black president (how can you say there is still racism)

Sometimes “compliments” are perceived as insults:

  • You’re really articulate (for a black person)
  • You’re clean/you smell good (considering how dirty you people usually are)
  • Black babies are just cuter than white babies (you know, like puppies)
  • Can I touch your hair (it’s so “exotic”)

This is obviously not a complete list, but it’s a start.

I’m really grateful that so many people have exhibited openness and graciousness in discussing race here, despite occasional frustration and some understandable misgivings. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody can walk in somebody else’s shoes. But if we begin our discussions by acknowledging how privilege (or lack of privilege) frames our points of view, we can get down to some serious business.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Getting High Schools Right

In the models for high schools, I see two things that are not being addressed: (1) race/class differences that drive people apart and send some families fleeing from their neighborhood schools, and (2) the reasons why kids drop out of high school. If the design does not address one of the major reasons why families flee, and if it does not address why kids drop out, then the unintended consequences of the current enrollment and transfer policy will be worsened, not improved.

Let me start with race/class differences.

Today, kids in Jefferson are disproportionately low-income and black, whereas in Roosevelt they are disproportionately low-income black and Hispanic. Kids in Lincoln are disproportionately affluent and white. So if we support Model A or B, won’t Lincoln continue to be an affluent white school, Jefferson a low-income black school, and Roosevelt a low-income black and Hispanic school? Since the demographics of the schools are largely reflective of the neighborhoods, then you are likely going to promote racially and economically segregated schools. Is this OK as long as all the schools are high quality?

But given the challenges that schools face that have high concentrations of poverty, can they really be equal in terms of teaching and learning outcomes and produce environments that promote educational excellence? Schools with high concentrations of poverty will need more assistance (e.g., more funding to create smaller class sizes and more guidance counselors), and they may face more challenges. If the additional assistance is not provided and the challenges not met, my concern is that students will want to flee these schools, no matter what their offerings are.

As you recall, not so long ago there were comprehensive high schools and middle schools in low-income areas in PPS. What happened to them?

Students fleeing their low-income neighborhood schools: we all know this has been the unintended consequence of the enrollment and transfer policy. So what are the new models going to do to prevent this from happening?

I would recommend that a program at all of the schools be established that deals explicitly with the issues of racism, poverty, and multiculturalism. If we take the idea of student academies included in the Model A design, these groups of students could be racially and economically diverse. Part of their work together would involve periodic guided conversations with a teacher/facilitator in which the students would discuss racism and poverty and inter-cultural communication. An example of this sort of program is Anytown, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice.

The design would acknowledge the challenge of nurturing and sustaining a diverse learning community and would take the challenge head on. The design would also acknowledge that “white flight” has happened before and can just as easily happen again. So it must take this phenomenon into consideration and deal with it explicitly.

In this way, the high schools will lead the way in promoting larger conversations about how we can nurture and sustain diversity in the larger Portland community. In the end, our high school students would become community role models.

Finally, let me turn to why kids drop out of school.

According to a 2006 Gates Foundation study (1.1 MB PDF) on why kids drop out, nearly half of the kids surveyed said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school. So do the designs increase or decrease interest and engagement? Part of the challenge here is that state law requires that core requirements be met in 9th and 10th grade, with very little room for students to choose classes of interest. Even if the new designs offer everything from anthropology to zoology, the students will not benefit from these diverse offerings until later. So can they wait that long to learn about what interests them? I would recommend an examination of the state law and push for fewer core requirements in 9th and 10th grade.

Another one of the other major reasons cited for why kids drop out is the feeling that no one cared about them. So how do these models promote caring? How do these models allow for teachers to get to know kids and to care for them and care about them? High school teachers currently have 130 to 150 students each. How much can be expected of them in this model? We know that a great teacher is often the critical difference for why kids succeed. So how do these models promote great teachers and great teaching?

If you went with Model A or B, you’d have to hire a lot more teachers to reduce class size and you’d have to budget and schedule for team-based professional development. These are the sorts of critical success factors that a teacher colleague of mine mentioned. As he said, this is not just about “effective structures,” the focus the district has chosen to take. You really do have to consider “Effective People” and “Effective Teaching and Supports” at the same time, the two other areas the district mentioned but has not focused on. Understood that you start with one, but once an “Effective Structure” has been chosen, then these other factors need equal if not more time and consideration.

So I’d like to to slow down the process and take the time to get this done right. We’ve already been through one very hurried, very unplanned redesign process with the K-8 reconfiguration. Let’s not have another. If we don’t redesign our high schools to solve the problems that are inherent in them, then what’s the point?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.


Please no MORE, just the SAME for students with disabilities

In the early 1970’s the Pennsylvania ARC won a court case that allowed children with disabilities the right to a public education. Their attorney Thomas Gilhool used the precedent set by Brown v. Board of education in 1954 that separate but equal was inherently unequal. In 1973 the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed and people with disabilities were given legal protection for the first time. Section 504 of this Act prohibited discrimination based on disability in any program receiving federal funds. It took a lot of effort on the parts of advocates to get the regulations written and this finally happened in 1977. In 1974 the Amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act addressed issues related to students with disabilities and this led in 1975 to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which provides for a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities. This law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990. Also in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed finally giving full legal equality to people with disabilities.

While all of this history was being made there were still children being placed in institutions into the 1970’s. When a mother gave birth to a child with a disability the physician commonly recommended immediate placement into the institution and to forget about the child and go have more babies. If the parent did not take this advice the child was still relatively invisible even if you were a part of the parent movement. Even if you did not put your child away you eventually had to send them to the institution for their services because that was the only way to get specialized medical help. When you watch a film from the 50’s and 60’s about Oregon’s Institution the Fairview Training Center (Once called the Institute for the Feeble Minded) you see rows and rows of infants in cribs and nurses in crisp uniforms. You see children no older than 4 in a stark white room with a few dolls and some balls. Fairview Training Center did not close until 2000. I worked with people that had been placed in Fairview as young children and had lived there 40 years and often more. They had no friends and their family had been told to forget about them a long time ago. I read reports about people that entered Fairview walking, talking, and with skills and now this person was in a wheelchair, could not talk, and could not even do the most basic things for themselves.

When do we get to at least start having the conversations about implementing the ADA in public buildings and places? I often get asked, “What about buildings that were built before the ADA was made into law? That will cost a lot of money.” Well schools were supposed to be equalized by federal funding since 1973 and the ADA brought more regulation in 1990; how many more years can we get out of that excuse? When there is talk about minorities, diversity, and equity people with disabilities are not always included. Important, life changing decisions are made for people with physical, medical, cognitive, and acquired disabilities all the time without their consent or opinion. Parents hear, “Your child’s needs are going to be best served in this special classroom with other kids like them. I am a professional you know and evidence based best practices say that this is best for your child.” This logic sounds a little bit like those doctors back in the day that said, “This is the best place for your child with people like them. Go home, have more kids and forget about this one. “We already did that and it wasn’t very nice.

Special education pull-outs from general education are supposed to be a pit stop to gain some skills and quickly get back into the race; not a place you stay your entire school career. These pull-outs from general education currently are a door that closes once you step through it. These children might be sheltered and warehoused in separate wings, portables on the playground, converted locker rooms, basements. Their classrooms are prone to change to new buildings from one year to the next forcing children to transfer. Children with IEP’s do not have the same rights as other children to attend their neighborhood school. If you have a disability and live across the street from a school they will short bus you all the way across town anyway. They will have a variety of reasons for this. Some of them are ADA related or there simply is not a classroom that will meet the needs of the child according to the IEP team. A parent that wants something different has to seek due process. We are discussing transfer options at length and there are some students in PPS that would just like to attend their neighborhood school and they are told NO.

Don’t strategize how you can give people more services to “fix” them, throw more pots of money at them, plan how to give them “special” opportunities to be equitably distributed, and don’t immerse them with people of “their” kind and let them prove to you in segregation with lack of peer models that they “deserve” to be with everyone else. Please no MORE, People with disabilities (teachers, parents, students, staff, citizens) should have the same right to complain about their neighborhood school like everyone else. Students should be able to attend in the neighborhood. Parents in wheelchairs should be able to have access to their child’s school. Administrators, teachers, and staff in wheelchairs should have the opportunity to work in any school they wish.

Please do continue to give people with disabilities a voice in the forum that includes minorities and diversity but only the same, not more. Allow them to have similar joys and worries any student, parent, teacher, citizen might have.

Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.


Dept. of lost and squandered millions

The amount of a $5.2 million federal grant lost by the Vicki Phillips administration is now approaching $2 million, according to the Willamette Week (where the story originally broke in September, 2007). The funding of the grant, which was intended to create magnet schools in the Jefferson cluster to ease segregation, was lessened by at least $1.7 million due to the rushed closures of Applegate and Kenton, and by poor grant management.

In separate news, the State of Oregon has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a computer testing company for breach of contract.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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The school board fiddles

Here’s Monday nights agenda for the Portland School Board:


    • MESD 2007-2008 Annual Report (information item)

  5. OTHER BUSINESS 7:00 pm

    • Council of Great City Schools Annual Conference (information item)

  6. ADJOURN 7:10 pm

So the school board can only find 40 minutes of work that needs to be done? Or should I say 40 minutes of reports to receive. This is in a school district which spends hundreds of millions of dollars of citizens’ taxes, which is beset by problems ranging from incredible school inequity, massive economic problems on the horizon, disastrous maintenance deficits, serious teacher hiring malpractices, rampant school discipline problems, incredible numbers of dropouts, a TAG program which desperately needs to be revamped, a k-8 curriculum which is the envy of no one, a student transfer program which is further segregating the school district, schools which are inundated with a culture of testing instead of education (no offense to those educators who are fighting this), schools without libraries or librarians, huge numbers of kids who can’t read or do basic math, and a myriad of other serious problems. 40 minutes?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that Superintendent Carol Smith has begun to address many of these problems and the school board does a lot of work in committees. They are good people who care about Portland and its children. But that is not enough. The school board is elected to lead, to solve problems, and work for the best educational programs it can. It needs real public input, serious public discussions about directions to take, resolutions put forth to address problems which are debated openly and sold to the public and the school district’s employees, real leadership which garners genuine support and confidence. Leadership that continues to move us in a new direction where all kids are important and which looks at education in Portland as something more than a referendum on programs which arise out of some hazy educational research done somewhere by someone for some reason we don’t understand, and which we then push on our teaching staff eating up their time in meetings instead of having them be further engaged in the teaching process.

So I call on each school board member to bring their resolutions to the table. This is the time. November and the first part of December are a slow time in education. A good time to make some progress. A good time to look at those problems which are beginning to fester. A good time to discuss those problems which need to be addressed by our city’s educational leaders –- you, the board.

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.


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